Before asbestos was regulated because of its negative health effects, it was widely used in thousands of construction and manufacturing settings across the U.S. Its ability to withstand fire, high heat, chemicals and electricity made it an ideal choice for many industrial applications. Unfortunately, many who worked in these industries developed a deadly disease called mesothelioma. What’s more, victims can develop symptoms decades after they were exposed. Here are the facts about mesothelioma and what you can do if you or a loved one is diagnosed with this life-threatening illness.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive and deadly type of cancer that attacks the thin layer of tissue (mesothelium) covering many of the internal organs. Because most cases are not discovered until the disease has progressed, mesothelioma patients have an average life expectancy of 12 – 21 months after diagnosis. However, survival rates are higher when the cancer is identified in its early stages.
Regardless of where the disease starts, it often spreads to other parts of the body by the time the patient receives a diagnosis.
The primary cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, a heat-resistant material that was used extensively in the construction and manufacturing industries. In 1971, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared asbestos a hazardous material when its health dangers became more widely publicized. However, by that time, millions of people had already been subject to decades of asbestos exposure from existing sources. This exposure continued even after the federal government limited asbestos use in new applications.
Asbestos is dangerous because of its ability to separate into microscopic needle-like airborne fibers. When inhaled, these fibers penetrate the lung tissue, which can cause pleural mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. In addition, when the fibers are swallowed, they can travel to the abdominal lining and cause peritoneal mesothelioma.
Studies show that mesothelioma can develop decades, as long as 20 – 60 years, after an individual was exposed to asbestos.
In addition to direct exposure to an asbestos source, the Mayo Clinic cites other factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing the disease. These include:
If you have symptoms of mesothelioma, you should schedule a visit with your doctor, especially if you have lived or worked in an environment where asbestos was used. Your doctor will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes a physical exam and a history of past asbestos exposure. Diagnostic tests may include X-rays, CT scans, MRIs and/or biopsies.
If you have pleural mesothelioma, the doctor will use the test data to assign the disease a stage ranging in severity from I to IV. A Stage I designation, which means the cancer is localized, has the best chance of responding to treatment. Stage IV means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body and is likely to result in death.
Symptoms vary depending on the type of mesothelioma and which part of the body is affected. Further, many of the common symptoms are similar to those of other diseases. Remember that mesothelioma can develop many years after asbestos exposure, so it’s important to see a physician as soon as possible if you have symptoms that might indicate you have the disease.
Yes, asbestos exposure can also cause two other serious illnesses: asbestosis and lung cancer.
Also known as interstitial fibrosis, asbestosis refers to scarring of the lung tissue caused by exposure to asbestos. The main symptom of asbestosis is usually a gradual onset of shortness of breath, especially during or right after physical activity. Symptoms may also include chest pain and coughing.
Like mesothelioma, asbestosis is incurable. Nevertheless, using an oxygen tank may provide relief to those with moderate lung impairment. In addition, individuals with asbestosis have an increased risk of developing more severe asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.
While mesothelioma attacks the pleural lining, lung cancer usually involves a tumor on one or both lungs. If untreated, the cancerous cells can spread to other parts of the body.
Some of the symptoms of lung cancer include coughing up blood, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest or bone pain, difficulty swallowing, fever and fatigue. Like most cancers, survival rates are higher when the disease is detected before it begins to spread.
Further, cigarette smokers have a higher risk of lung disease, including lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. The risk is multiplied when the smoker has also been exposed to asbestos.
For decades, asbestos was widely used in a multitude of fireproofing, insulation, construction and manufacturing applications. While asbestos is no longer used in new construction or manufacturing projects, it can still be found in drywall, plaster, cement, fire doors, floorboards, roofing materials and many other places. Additionally, because of its heat-resistant properties, asbestos was used in small appliances such as toasters and hair dryers.
Therefore, people in a wide variety of work environments and living situations could be in danger of developing an asbestos-related illness. While any amount of asbestos can cause harm, those with prolonged exposure have an increased risk.
Here are some examples of workers who are likely to have high incidences of asbestos exposure:
In addition, those who work with asbestos can carry the toxic fibers home in their hair or clothing, exposing family members. Therefore, even those who lived with a person that worked around asbestos many years ago may still be at risk of developing mesothelioma.
Unfortunately, many people are diagnosed when the disease has already advanced through the body. While late-stage cancer usually cannot be removed, there are ways to manage the disease and make the patient more comfortable.
When mesothelioma is detected in its earlier stages, certain treatment options may be effective.
Surgical procedures may be used to decrease fluid buildup in the lungs, remove a lung and excise affected tissue around the lungs or abdomen.
Chemotherapy, which uses chemicals to kill cancer cells throughout the system, may shrink or slow the growth of cancers that cannot be surgically removed. In addition, chemotherapy is sometimes used before or after surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence. For peritoneal mesothelioma, chemotherapy may be administered directly into the abdominal cavity to destroy the cancer cells.
Radiation targets specific areas of the body via high-energy X-ray or proton beams. Often used after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells, radiation therapy can also reduce advanced cancer symptoms when surgery is not an option.
Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells by interrupting the body’s natural response to the cancer cells.
Targeted therapy, indicated for certain tumor DNA testing results, uses drugs to attack specific vulnerabilities in cancer cells.
Depending on the severity, a doctor may prescribe medication, supplemental oxygen and/or certain alternative treatments to relieve breathlessness. These include acupuncture, breathing techniques, relaxation exercises and directing a portable fan toward the face.
Obtaining a diagnosis should be your first priority if you think you have mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease. If you have been exposed to asbestos and are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, contact your physician immediately. Because asbestos fibers can be carried home on clothes or skin, anyone experiencing symptoms who lives (or lived) with someone who had exposure should also seek medical care.
Once your diagnosis is confirmed, contact an experienced mesothelioma lawyer as soon as possible. This is the first step toward receiving the compensation you and your family are entitled to. Even if your exposure to asbestos occurred many years ago, you are still entitled to pursue legal action. In some instances, a spouse or family member may be able to recover damages by filing a wrongful death claim.
Michigan has strict filing deadlines for mesothelioma claims, and the legal clock starts ticking as soon as your illness is diagnosed. Our experienced mesothelioma attorneys know what it takes to win your case, and we are ready to fight for the compensation you deserve.
Get your case started today by clicking the button below to fill out a brief form or calling 1-800-CALL-SAM for a free, no-obligation remote consultation from the safety of your home.
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